158 Years Ago

Watching the ice flow up and down the Hudson in this fierce winter weather reminds me how the Nauvoo pioneers walked west across the frozen Mississippi on 4 February 1846. That’s six or seven generations ago, the combined ages of two old men. I once walked across the frozen Charles, and it was brutally cold for a long time to freeze up that smaller river.

On that same February day, by coincidence, New York’s own pioneers, the more than 230 LDS passengers of The Ship Brooklyn set sail for “Upper California” which probably meant Oregon, though they ended up in Yerba Buena, later San Francisco, where they doubled the population. No Panama Canal for them. They sailed down and up South America, passing Tierra del Fuego, the ultima Thule of the world. Imagine the faith, hope and desperation necessary to sail off on those grim grey seas to an unknown future in the worst month of the year.

They left from a dock even then named Old Slip, below South Street Seaport. They sailed under the direction of clay-footed martinet Samuel Brannan who demanded such regimentation and obedience that he was later taken to court by the passengers. They spent months at sea. During a storm, one of my husband’s ancestors, traveling with her husband and seven children and pregnant with the eighth, fell down a hatchway and suffered fatal injuries. She was buried on the island of Juan Fernandez off the coast of Chile, the place where Robinson Crusoe may once have lived. Augusta Joyce Crocheron, who later wrote Representative Women of Deseret, quoted her mother as saying that nothing in her life had been as hard as the voyage on that old immigrant ship.

Old Slip is now the home of fabulous financial enterprises housed in the alabaster towers of the unsleeping city. And quite amazingly, one of those towers will soon wear a bronze
plaque commemorating the embarkation of The Ship Brooklyn. In actuality this will be a small reminder. Symbolically, it is huge. This will be a little part of a current LDS thrust: reclaiming and celebrating our heritage by taking possession, actually or symbolically, of lands which our people left or from which they have been driven. This impulse has been operative for more than a hundred years. In 1905, President Joseph F. Smith dedicated the Monument at Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, the site of Joseph Smith’s birthplace 100 years earlier. We see the movement gaining momentum as our towns of Kirtland and Nauvoo are restored. And not just triumphant places but also the sacrificial ground of Martin’s Cove and Haun’s Mill. We believe in significant locations, shrines and monuments, sacred places.

Should anyone in reading distance actually be in commuting distance, please consider attending the dedicatory event which will be Saturday, February 7th at 2 pm at 32 Old Slip. There will be a brief program of commemoration and dedication outdoors, followed by a reception upstairs courtesy of Goldman Sachs. A prize-winning documentary Forgotten Voyage, make by Scott Tiffany at [email protected] will be shown. We had planned to serve hard tack, brown water, and moldy cheese, but won’t.

To get to Old Slip, for this event or for a later pilgrimage, travel to the Wall Street station on the 2/3 red line. On Wall Street, with Trinity Church at your back, walk east to Water Street. Turn right (south) and walk to Old Slip. 32 Old Slip, called Financial Square, is the building on the far left corner of Old Slip.

For security reasons we need the names of all those attending the reception in advance. If
anyone is able to come, please respond to this blog on Times and Seasons.

9 comments for “158 Years Ago

  1. Kaimi
    January 20, 2004 at 4:04 pm


    I’ll try to attend, along with Mardell (and the kids? Is this a kid-friendly event? Boats and docks are always a hit with my kids).

    I assume you’ve told First ward about this. I’ll let Bro. Garff and Pres. Bench know, so that any Westchester Stake people who are interested can also let you know.

  2. Greg
    January 20, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful event Claudia, I’m sorry I’ll miss it. I hope there is a similar event for us Bay Area saints to commemorate the arrival at Yerba Buena. Maybe a block party on Brannan Street in downtown San Francisco…

  3. Scott
    January 20, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    As a bit of historical/fictional clarification, Juan Fernandez is the island upon which Alexander Selkirk was stranded. Selkirk’s stint on that island was, according to many experts, a major influence on Defoe’s novel. The fictional character Robinson Crusoe, however, was stranded on an island off the Orinoco River delta of Venezuela after leaving his plantation in Brazil on a slave-trading venture. Because of the inspiration Selkirk’s experience allegedly supplied Defoe with, Juan Fernandez is often informally and misleadingly referred to as ‘Robinson Crusoe Island.’


  4. Kristine
    January 20, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    Claudia, I might try to come down–how soon do you have to have names?

  5. Kristine
    January 21, 2004 at 11:35 am

    I’ve been thinking about this story all morning. When I was younger, pioneer stories always seemed like a good opportunity to test myself–I’d ask “would I do that? could I stand that?” It’s undoubtedly a mark of the extreme hubris of youth, but I usually thought I could do it, could have been tough enough to be a pioneer. Since I’ve had children, though, the equation is completely different. When the test is “would I take my babies into a cold night, or onto a rickety ship?” I have to admit that I flunk the test EVERY TIME. It’s really disheartening, in a way, but also makes those pioneer stories awesome to me in a way they never were when I was a child.

  6. Andy
    January 21, 2004 at 10:45 pm


    Hope you’re still checking this.

    I plan on attending. Name: Andy West

    I am trying to bring some others down from New Haven, so I’ll post another comment after I hear from them.

    Thanks for telling everyone about the event.

  7. Josh Probert
    January 22, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    I will be there. Thanks for the notice.

  8. Blair and Sue Garff
    January 27, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    Blair and Sue Garff will attend on Feb. 7th. Thank you.

  9. Kaimi
    February 7, 2004 at 6:40 pm

    I just attended this event, and it was great. The weather was more-or-less cooperative (a bit chilly, but not snowy as it had been in prior days). Comments by President Belnap, Brother Bullock, and Scott Tiffany, were very informative and well-done. The film was also fun and informative. And finally, I got to see several people there: Members of my old ward; a few T & S fans I met from Yale; plus the Bushmans.

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